Joel Hale didn't play a snap when Ohio State played Wisconsin last year. Now the junior nose guard will be crucial for the Buckeyes against the Badgers on Saturday.
Joel Hale didn't play a snap when Ohio State played Wisconsin last year.
Now the junior nose guard will be crucial for the Buckeyes against the Badgers on Saturday.
"I'm excited," Hale said. "Finally, a team that's going to be testing (us). It's going to attempt to run downhill. Our job is to stop the downhill runs. We'll be put to the test this week, and we'll see what we've got."
Hale was ready last year, but he never left the sideline. Senior Garrett Goebel was the nose guard, and all year he handled that job solidly, if unspectacularly.
"Garrett Goebel was doing his job great," Hale said. "You can't hate on him because he's doing his job great. It was hard. I was the guy standing behind Coach waiting to get in. That was my role last year so I can't complain. But now it's my time."
Despite his lack of game experience, the Buckeyes counted on Hale to emerge as a stout force against the run and a leader on a defensive line replacing all four starters.
"I felt it was my obligation to start for Ohio State," he said. "It wasn't a goal. It wasn't a dream. It was, I had to. Otherwise, what am I doing? I'm just a junior who's going to get moved on. I had to start for the Ohio State Buckeyes, no matter what. I had to lock in. I think I locked in a lot more than I had in prior years. And I've got to keep doing it."
Hale added 15 pounds of muscle from last year and now weighs 310 pounds. He believes his legs are stronger, enhancing his ability to stay on his feet and maintain leverage.
Through four games, Hale has been credited with four tackles, including a half-sack. Such is the nature of the nose guard position. It's a grunt's position, not a glory-seeker's. His job is mainly to occupy blockers so that others are free to make tackles.
One way that Hale is much different than Goebel is in personality. Goebel was an aw-shucks introvert. Hale is, uh, not.
"There's nothing that you could say that could adequately describe Joel Hale," said center Corey Linsley, who faces off against Hale in practice every day. "He has such an (outgoing) personality. He's an awesome guy."
Hale is nicknamed the Juice Man, because he provides the juice, or energy, to keep his teammates buzzing.
"As an offensive lineman," Linsley said, "you hear Joel yelling from across the field and you look over like, 'Man, Joel. Shut up!' Even though we say that, we get a little mad that he's got a little more juice than we do, and he's shouting a little bit more than we are. He definitely pumps us up, and he's a leader on this team as much as anybody is in that regard."
Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell, a nose guard for Ohio State in his playing days, appreciates what Hale provides.
"Joel is a unique individual, just like a lot of nose guards, as you know," Fickell said slyly. "But he's one of those guys that's not looking for a lot of credit.He's a guy that gets subbed in for a lot of different times. But the reason you say he's a leader is because he makes others around him better. He truly cares about others around him every bit as much as he cares about himself.
"He was more excited for those guys that got an opportunity to play last week (in the blowout of Florida A&M), for some of the guys from that room, than he was about himself getting an opportunity to play or get a sack."
Now the job is his to man up against a team that will test Ohio State's manhood.